A Short Review of Why I Am Not A Christian (Richard Carrier)

There has been a bit of hooplah on the interwebs recently (e.g. here and here) concerning Richard Carrier and his response to Bart Ehrman’s book on why Jesus mythicism is a joke – Did Jesus Exist? Interestingly enough, it seems like Richard Carrier has very recently released his own book on the historicity of Jesus, or lack thereof (see here).

I have a self-published book of Carrier’s on my kindle, Why I Am Not A Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith, and so I thought I would give it a quick whirl while sitting out on the balcony in the sun.  I knew I was in for a treat when I cracked the book open (can one use this language when talking about an e-book?) and saw on the first page Carrier saying that he has “become something of a world renowned atheist.” I had no idea!

The book consists of four main chapters, each of which is an explanation of a reason as to why Carrier rejects God. At the beginning of the first chapter, Carrier says,

If God wants something from me, he would tell me. He wouldn’t leave someone else to do this, as if an infinite being were short on time. And he would certainly not leave fallible, sinful humans to deliver an endless plethora of confused and contradictory messages.

This type of reasoning is what you essentially find on many pages of the book: I think God would do XYZ, God does not do XYZ, therefore God could not possibly exist. Yup, that is the main thrust of Carrier’s whole argument. God doesn’t do things the way I would, therefore he doesn’t exist.

The book is extremely light on knowledge of Christianity (Carrier only evinces a very rudimentary knowledge of C.S. Lewis’ brand of “mere Christianity”), and doesn’t even really attempt to touch the surface of theology and philosophy. The four reasons that Carrier provides in the book as to why he isn’t a Christian may be perfectly fine for him, but for those who desire an intellectual discussion of the issue, you will be sorely disappointed. This book makes Christopher Hitchens badly researched book, God is Not Great, seem like a veritable five-star intellectual discussion on Christianity.

9 responses

  1. It’s a fair argument: if god existed, we should anticipate he would do things differently. Isaiah 55 covers the ground, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

    The problem atheists have is that god’s thoughts and ways aren’t terribly convincing or impressive.

    I mean… the Bible. You’re god, you’re perfect, you love your followers, you want none to be lost, your greatest wish is for them to be in communion with you, and… drum roll… you give them the Bible.

    Doesn’t the focus on eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabrics, and killing your kids should they adopt another religion bother you? God completely ignores rape, the ethics of slavery or abortion and pretty much anything remotely useful for the 21st century. Wouldn’t an all-knowing, all-powerful being toss in just a few useful tidbits?

    Imagine you were the author: maybe you’d toss in a line or two about the germ theory of disease and cholera. “Thou shalt wash your hands a lot, people, and put the toilets downstream from the town.” That’s a commandment that would help.

    Instead we got “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”, and “[If the] girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father’s house.”

    Carrier’s argument might be differently stated as “Any rational adult would expect God to do XYZ, God does not do XYZ (and more likely than not, does something incredibly useless or immoral instead), therefore God probably doesn’t exist.”

  2. Keith,

    Your argument is no more than a restatement of Carrier’s argument with more exclamation points. We get it. You wouldn’t do things the way God does. You really wouldn’t!

    Jesus Christ transcended all prior communications from God (including the civil code for an ANE culture, never intended for our own, which you’re so happy to quote). If you really wish to reject God, you must find a way to reject Jesus of Nazareth. You will not find it as easy.

    I suggest that you include some C.S. Lewis reading. As it states in the original post above, an acquaintance with Lewis would have helped Carrier. It would also help you. (Note: spend some extra time on his coverage of pride; it may be the signature sin of modern man.)

    • Jesus never said the civil code was intended for us? That’s not at all clear:

      Matthew 5:17
      Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

      Luke 16:17
      It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

      2 Timothy 3:16
      All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

      Jesus was equally specific in Matthew 15:4-7: For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

      Or, less direct, but simpler, John 14:15: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

      When atheists point this out, the usual response is “That’s NOT what they meant, they meant something entirely different.” And that response would carry weight if any two people could actually agree on what the bible says. It is easily arguable Christians are bound to OT law (no shellfish for you!), and further, that some of the most influential thinkers of your religion believed and acted on that fact.

      There are too many interpretations, MIke, and they don’t differ in minor ways, they differ in huge, substantial truth claims. Sam Harris covered this ground as well as anyone:

      “It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently—though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?”

      • Keith, the only person for whom I am an apologist is Jesus Christ. He brought a spiritual understanding of the Mosaic Law to light that had never before been considered. He taught us to pay attention to the spiritual dimension, not the physical dimension. Therefore, to keep His commandments is to adhere to the spirit of what Moses left, not the letter. This is certainly true for those of us who are Jews, but all the more true for those of us who are Gentiles – and therefore never subject to the physical Law of Moses in the first place (i.e. shellfish prohibitions never applied to me anyway). The scriptures you quote speak of the spiritual word that applies to all humanity through Jesus Christ.

        That there are many false interpretations of Christ’s teaching only goes to prove that there is an underlying truth which He gave – and continues to give – to human hearts. We know what is false because it does not square with that truth.

        The truth of God is that we should love Him above all and our neighbors as ourselves. If you know a better code of conduct for humankind, by all means bring it to light. But when you do, be prepared to demonstrate it to the world with your behavior as Jesus did with His when He submitted to crucifixion and its associated indignities.

        Jesus of Nazareth demonstrated the glory of God in a darkened world. You have no reasonable argument against Him.

  3. “Therefore, to keep His commandments is to adhere to the spirit of what Moses left, not the letter.”

    As Harris said: “Isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?”

    “That there are many false interpretations of Christ’s teaching only goes to prove that there is an underlying truth…”

    I don’t see the connection: the many false interpretations of Christ’s teaching doesn’t prove truth, it only proves Christ’s teachings hopelessly muddled and incoherent. Which should give you pause: if Jesus was god, he’d have known his teachings would be used to justify heretic burning (I’m specifically noting John 15:6). How could a loving, merciful, just god not bothered to give us clarity on whole witch-burning thing?

    “If you know a better code of conduct for humankind, by all means bring it to light.”

    One can easily turn to the Jains, who proclaim “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” Contrast that with Jesus in Matthew 10:34: “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.”

    To argue the Bible presents a reasonably code of conduct requires you believe Jesus to be the son of god. Nothing else will suffice, because only god’s imprimatur is sufficient to make rational people take such irrational gibberish seriously.

    • Keith, the most influential thinkers in the history of my faith are in the Bible. They all bear witness to Jesus Christ. And to Him no Jain, Jew, Christian, Muslim, or any other can be compared.

  4. The new angry atheists are like Goliath, blustering, spouting their challenges and defying the living God. But, all that is necessary for their defeat is one simple person to shrug off the fear of ridicule that seems to always be on the tongues of atheists, and to run to the battle shouting “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” When you have done your preparation and are faithful to God, you will find these atheist giants are nothing but paper tigers and their arguments, like Carrier’s are paper thin. Just like Goliath’s four brothers fled (hence David’s 5 stones in his satchel), the rest of the atheists will flee when you take one down.

  5. Mike, are you saying that the god of the Old Testament is not in fact the One True God who later “trifurcated” into Father, Son and Holy Ghost of the New Testament? Are you saying he was only a tribal god and only the Jews were subject to his laws? He is not the One Sovereign God of the entire universe who created everything and everyone and whose laws apply to all humans, not just a tribe of ancient Jews? This is an interesting new interpretation. On what factual information do you base it? Or did you just make that up yourself?

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